Listen to thoughtful critiques of the latest movies,
broadcast Tuesdays at 10:55am, and Wednesdays at 12:55pm.


Film Review Archive

 

Winged Migration
Reviewed by Carla Freccero


Winged Migration-or, as the original French title Le Peuple migrateur might have it, Migrating People-is playing at the Del Mar in Santa Cruz. It's directed by Jacques Perrin,who also did Microcosmos, a documentary about insects, and it features an over-the-top musical score by the same guy, Bruno Coulais.
This is an amazing film, as much for the way it withholds information and sneaks in ideology as for its labor intensive tour-de-force cinematography. One review mentions 3 years' worth of filming, with 5 crews of 450 people, including 17 pilots and 14 cinematographers. The interview on Fresh Air talked about amazing remote flying devices and battery-operated helicopters that follow the birds close-up and at their speed, so they seem to be flapping their powerful wings at a near stand-still. While the opening credits proclaim that no special effects were used-and how sad that now we actually have to say that when fabulous cinematography occurs!-nevertheless, the movie is a triumphant result of nature and artifice almost seamlessly blended together. Donna Haraway, writing about the long histories of cross-species interaction that includes humans, speaks of naturecultures. In Winged Migration, we see such an example, although it's concealed from view in favor of a more sinister story about human-animal encounters. The director explained in the interview that some of the birds were trained from infancy to follow camera and crew, through the process known as imprinting.
The human-related encounters we see in the movie are not, for the most part, benign. The exceptions, in fact, betray the nationalist ideologies at work in the film. In two very pastoral, very romanticized rural locales in France, for example, a young boy frees a goose trapped in some fish netting, while an old peasant woman hand feeds the cranes who come to sojourn annually in her pasture. Eastern Europe is the place where massively polluting factories visit oily destruction upon exotic Asian migrating geese, whereas America-surprise, surprise-is where hunters annually shoot large numbers of traveling ducks. In Africa and the Arctic, of course, there are no people at all, only seriously predatory animals. Two particularly violent scenes involve crabs, on the one hand, and something that looks like a Dodo bird, on the other.
An astonishing aspect of Winged Migration is how it withholds information about the birds, mentioning only their type, the number of miles they travel, and their points of origin and destination. I loved this touch. The film deliberately refuses to be educational, refuses the generic conventions of Animal Planet or National Geographic or even of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. These are not strange creatures we are allowed to distance with a series of facts and figures; rather, they are some of the beings with whom we share the earth, awesome, struggling beings who persist despite the obstacles both we and the planet throw in their path. They fly across continents, every year, because they must. And flying is a strenuous, exhausting activity.
Winged Migration is powerful, moving and disturbing. It poses a challenge to us to recognize birds, not as exotic symbols of freedom, of our desire to sprout wings and fly, but as a species that struggles to survive, like us, and whose flight is as necessary as the air we both breathe.

Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.